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eMeals: Budgeting, Planning and Cooking Family Meals

02/05/2013

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One of my goals for the new year, now that we’re in our new home, is to cook more. I’ve never been too much into cooking and really slacked off a lot while we were living with my parents. My mom was kind enough to let us chip in for groceries and still do a lot of the cooking she would be doing anyway—except for 5 people instead of 2. (Thanks, Mom!!) Part of what has held me back from cooking more in past years is the time to plan and shop for meals. Jason (who is a very good and creative cook!) and I would walk through the grocery store together and look for inspiration based on what was on sale. That would usually get us a meal or two and a lot of random stuff. There was a Groupon for eMeals around New Years and after discussing with a friend who as used it before, I decided that this would be my plan for 2013.

So far, I am completely loving it…so much so that I’m writing this blog post! Every Sunday I get a 2 page PDF in my inbox with 7 recipes and a grocery shopping list for my neighborhood Kroger. The recipes are selected based on what’s on sale this week. It takes a huge amount of the planning out it and allows me to get great deals without flipping through ads, cutting coupons or wandering through the store. (Ain’t nobody got time for that!) I love that the shopping list is broken down by section of the store, too. It’s cut grocery shopping time down by half. At least.

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It’s also saving us money. The plan we’ve selected is the Classic Family Plan (the only one based on your local grocery store’s sales, I think) for 3-6 people. They also have an option for 1-2 people but my friend suggested the bigger plan because it yeilds a lot of leftovers. That’s where the second half of the time and money saving comes in for me. Often, I’m able to freeze half of the meal either cooked, or partially cooked following the freezing techniques of Don’t Panic—Dinner’s in the Freezer We also have leftovers flowing all the time so I very rarely need to eat out for lunch or take my former staple can of soup to work.

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This is Creamy Burrito Casserole round 2 – just after taking it out of the freezer to thaw. The recipe made enough for 2 good size casseroles.

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An unexpected result is that we’ve been eating out less. I never really thought we ate out all that much but having a plan for the week means that we’re very rarely going out to eat Monday-Thursday. We usually treat ourselves to a night out after work on Friday and a lunch after church on Sundays. Other than that, we’ve been spending around $40-45/week on dinner/lunch. That does not include things like milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, fruit and other staples but for the bulk of our meals…I think that’s pretty good. The plan adds up to around $85 for 7 meals for 3-6 people. I’ve been choosing 3 meals per week and selecting from a rotation of freezer meals for the other days we’re eating at home.

Another, perhaps more obvious benefit, is that it’s introducing us to a lot of new recipes and new foods. All the recipes we’ve tried have been good, some have been excellent (salmon cakes, swedish meatballs, oven fried chicken, creamy burrito casserole). I’ve discovered some items in the grocery store that I never knew existed (panko, cheese soup). I’ve learned where I/we draw the line to save a buck…white bread sandwich rolls for $1? Head of iceberg lettuce for $1.49? No thank you. I’m willing to pay a little more for something we like better.

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Bring Home the Bacon … for Christmas!

12/13/2012

It’s time to tell you about my favorite Christmas present from last year, in case you still need an idea for that hard-to-shop-for someone on your list. It’s not the gift that got the most use (that would be our Keurig) but it’s the one that has saved us hundreds of greasy paper towels and time cleaning a grease splattered stove, oven or microwave…which is pretty awesome. Gifted to me by my beloved.

Meet Piggy Wiggy the bacon tray.

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Microwave bacon trays are not hard to come by but I was searching high and low for one that had a lid. Without a lid the grease still splatters all over the microwave (or requires lots of paper towels), so what is the point? Then I found Joie Piggy Wiggy. Not only does it have a lid, it has a pink vented lid with a pig-face handle. It’s perfect. The grid on the tray allows the grease to drain off the bacon and everything is contained. No more throwing away 5 greasy paper towels just to cook a few strips of bacon. The grease can easy be dumped into a jar and the two parts scrub clean pretty easily. Did I mention it’s less than $10 with free shipping on Amazon? What are you waiting for … git one!


Classic, Spicy, Delicious Breakfast

05/17/2011

Poached eggs are the new fad around this mid-century modern ranch. Jason, who is a wonderfully creative cook, came up with this twist on the classic poached egg and toast.

Poach an egg the way you always do. We use a deep skillet with a few inches of water and a splash of apple cider vinegar and gentle slide the egg into the water when it’s at a gentle boil. Figuring out when it’s done is not an art we’ve perfected yet. Place the poached egg on a piece of buttered toast. Sprinkle with sharp cheddar cheese, dill, salt & pepper, and a few drops of Louisiana Jalepeño Hot Sauce. (Side note: Best brand of hot sauce EVER. I thought I didn’t like hot sauce until I had Lousiana Hot Sauce. Great flavor and not overly hot.)

Easy peasy. And it’s truly yummy! In fact, I want one right now just thinking about it…


Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

09/08/2010

Lately Jason and I have been buying whole chickens from the grocery store. They’re pretty inexpensive and we end up getting several meals out of one. We cook the whole thing in the crockpot with seasonings and fresh herbs sprinkled on top. After 6-8 hours the cooked chicken is tender and tasty and there is a bit of broth left in the bottom of the pot. After we’ve had 1 or 2 meals with chicken, I like to use the broth and the small bits of leftover chicken to make soup.

For Chicken Noodle Soup you need:

carrots (2) chopped
celery (3 stalks) chopped
broth/boullion
chicken (cooked & chopped up)
noodles
salt, pepper, bay leaf and/or other seasoning to taste

First I like to peel the carrots.

Then I prep the celery for chopping. I decided to cook the leafy parts of the stalks for flavor but left them whole so I could fish them out later.

Chop the carrots and celery up into small chunks.

Cut the chicken into bit-size pieces.

I added a bay leaf, 5-6 balls of all spice, a boullion cube and some water.

Then I added the carrots, celery, chicken, and about 1 cup of noodles. I recommend using bigger noodles than this. These fine egg noodles get so soft and don’t really hold their own in this soup.

Cook for a couple of hours and then fish out the bay leaf, all spice and leafy celery parts.

Done! I made this soup on the same day as the tomato basil soup so I decided to freeze all of it. In other words, I forgot to take a picture of the finished soup in a nice bowl.


Guitar-Shaped Cake

03/10/2010

A rockin’ baby party needs a rockin’ guitar cake, right? I drove home from Michaels with this guitar shaped cake pan wondering how in the world I was going to do this – bake the cake, get it out of the pan and onto a plate in one piece, and decorate it. I was afraid it would stick in the pan and be a crumbly mess. I wished I could have called Granny. She used to make all sorts of fancy cakes after taking cake decorating classes back in the 70’s.

Thankfully it came with detailed instructions to grease the pan with shortening and sprinkle with flour to make sure no shiny spots show through. It took some retouching on the tuning pegs but I eventually had it thoroughly greased and floured.

Granny used to always gently drop the cake pan onto the oven rack a few times. I’m not sure why … maybe to get rid of air pockets? I do it sometimes just because she did.

One regular cake mix completely filled the pan. I made funfetti cake.

After it cooled a few minutes, I cut off the rounded top … and ate most of it. Because why waste perfectly good cake?

The instructions said to flip the cake onto a wire rack, then, once cooled, flip it onto the serving plate. I had no interest in flipping the cake twice so it went straight onto the serving plate. It didn’t come right out. I ended up sliding a knife along the edges to make sure everything was loose and then tried again.

Success!!! Thank you Jesus! Look at that bridge and sound hole and those frets. How funny! Do you really think they’ll be visible after I frost it?

Nope. But I suppose maybe the purpose is just a template for decorating. Considering I’m an ill-equiped*, inexperienced cake decorator, I think it turned out OK. Colored sugars certainly help.

*I used a butter knife and a ziplock bag with the corner snipped off.

I used Martha Stewart’s vanilla frosting recipe. (By the way, I recently discovered the wonder of homemade frosting. Why have I been buying it out of a can all these years?!) It was very sugary sweet but thankfully the cake was not so it was a nice balance.

I’m looking forward to many more guitar cakes in the future!


Blackberry Hand Pies

08/25/2009

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Mmm… hello delicious! I made these sweet little blackberry hand pies using this recipe. (You’ll have to go there to get ingredient amounts and specific instructions—I won’t take credit for someone else’s work.) As an inexperienced cook  I thought it’d be fun to document my adventure with step-by-step photos.

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Blend flour, butter, salt and shortening in food processor. Pulse in a little cold water.

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Wrap up dough and refrigerate at least an hour.

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Warm blackberries in a sauce pan. (I used frozen.)

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Add sugar, cinnamon and cornstarch.

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Gently heat into a sauce. Set aside.

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Roll out dough. Find something round to use as a template. (This is my first homemade pie crust. Please don’t criticize my rolling skills!)

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Plop a spoonful of blackberry yumminess into circle of dough.

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Carefully rest loaded pastry on a baking sheet and seal with a fork.

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Brush tops with milk and sprinkle with sugar. (I used my finger as a “brush”. Shhh… don’t tell anyone.)

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Bake. Be patient a minute. Serve to your husband!

(And enjoy one for yourself, too, of course.)